I lit the candles in the living space. We had increased pain practices to five times a day. Freedom House was almost ready to join The Light. The Darius was allowing new members but only if it was an extreme situation, and in two days there was to be no more recruiting. A few days ago, Miles brought a ten-year old girl back to the house. She was prostituting on Pacific Ave. We named her Grace.
All the candles were lit. Penelope came into the living space wearing her usual white apron and panties. Her apron had pink fingerprinted stains from wiping her hands on it as she cooked.
"The Darius asked me to set plates out on the floor with pork on each plate," said Penelope.
"Wonderful. I can help." I said.
"I'm glad you've come to enjoy it here Ivy. You've become a big part of Freedom House."
"It's the home I've never had."
"Me too." said Penelope.
The Darius sat in the middle of the living space, everyone else sat around him.
"The Darkness is coming sooner than expected. It's coming to stop us, to stop our Journey to the Light. We must stop it. Today marks everyone's entrance into The Free stage. In eight days, we will enter The Light. We must strengthen our minds and bodies. Pick up the plate in front of you."
Miles lifted his plate and I could feel his stare in my direction.
"Penelope made this for all of us. We will eat this pork today to enter The Free."
I looked down at the cooked meat, the smell entered my nostrils and shot down into my stomach, making my stomach turn. I hadn't eaten meat for months now.
"Take a bite, all as one." The Darius said.
I used my fingers to pick up the pork and bit into it. It was tougher than I remembered. The repetitive chewing motions exhausted my jaw and the meat stayed one moist blob in my mouth, never getting smaller. I almost vomited but forced myself to keep it down. I heard a gargling sound and looked over to see Sylvie vomiting onto her lap. The Darius walked over to her and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"That's quite alright Sylvie. This is normal. We cannot waste though. Penelope, get a spoon."
"Yes The Darius." said Penelope.
I chewed and chewed while looking over at The Darius and Sylvie. Was my mind playing tricks on me? There was no way he was going to ask her to scoop it up and eat it, was there? I believed in The Darius, but how did this fit into our Journey?
Penelope skipped through the kitchen smiling and handed The Darius a spoon. The Darius held the spoon pointed straight up, in front of Sylvie's face. Sylvie, pale with saliva down the corner of her mouth, took the spoon. The Darius smiled, "Smile Sylvie, this is what we all need. Don't waste, eat it."
Sylvie looked down at the chunky liquid on her lap. She took a scoop and brought it to her mouth. I looked away but the sour smell lingered in the air as a reminder.
"I'll have some. You're not alone Sylvie. We're in this together." Penelope said.
Penelope got onto her knees in front of Sylvie and opened her mouth, a signal to Sylvie to feed it to her. Sylvie lifted the spoon, the liquid swayed to the edges almost spilling over from Sylvie's shaking hand. She placed the spoon on Penelope's lips and tilted it into her mouth. Penelope slurped it down and before finishing it, a small chunk was on the corner of her mouth. She used her pink stained index finger to push it into her mouth and sucked her finger dry.
"Here's the flip phone. It'll be your one and only source of communication with us. You'll need to hide it. What we usually suggest is for you to tape it to your body then when you are in the location find a spot to keep it hidden, one where nobody will find it. Maybe underneath a floorboard. Or behind the toilet. It's up to you, just don't let it get discovered. You aren't required to call, you can just text. You need to begin all your texts with our code so that we know it's you. The code is: OpCLT. We have an emergency code as well. This is to be sent only if you believe you or another person is in immediate danger. That code is 666. You need to erase all messages whenever possible. Is this all clear Detective Arc?"
"Yes sir, all cl--."
Detective Salvino's cellphone barely started to ring and he'd already answered it.
"This is Salvino. Are you sure? The Whole Foods off Soquel Ave. Got it. See you soon."
Detective Arc finished taping the cellphone to her upper thigh. She wore loose pants, flip flops, and a red tank top. Her left eye was swollen, and her upper cheek was split.
"Let's roll Detective." Sophia Arc said.
Detective Salvino dropped Sophia off one block away, on a residential street. She walked to Whole Foods and stood in the front. She looked around and spotted Detective Bailey parked and sitting in a black Honda Civic. He signaled to her to look to her left. She glanced over and saw a man returning his cart. She looked back at Detective Bailey to get confirmation. She slid down the wall of the Whole Foods and sat on the concrete.
"Can you spare any change sir?" said Sophia.
It was Cyrus. He looked down at Sophia and squatted down to her eye level.
"What the hell happened to you?" Cyrus said.
"You know, some call it true love." said Sophia.
"Where I come from, true love doesn't leave black eyes."
"Well I guess we don't all have your luck." She said.
Cyrus reached into his pocket and handed Sophia ten dollars. He walked toward the parking lot and then stopped. He turned around and went back to her.
"I didn't always have this luck, someone took a chance on me and showed me true love. You want to come with me? I promise you it'll be worth it."
I sat in Freedom Park next to the coy pond. It was the first time in a while that I felt confused. Orange, black, and white strokes glided under the surface of the water. The colors blended together, and my mind transported me back to my mom's apartment, the orange and white floral print couch. It was a Sunday and the sunlight from the open window was the only brightness that came in. A glimpse out into the world. The sound of children laughing outside echoed through the apartment.
My mother and Steve had started early that Sunday, around 10 in the morning. An empty bottle of vodka was on the living room floor and the cap was missing. I pictured a small ship with sails inside the bottle and I was the captain, sailing far away, never looking back. Mother was passed out on the floor and her arm flung over, sending the empty bottle into motion, rolling away and coming to a stop against the wall.
I heard him come out of the bedroom. He swayed back and forth with no shirt on and sloppy, ripped up jeans, the top button popped open from his bulging stomach.
"Darrrleen, git up." Mother didn't move. Her hair covered her face and she was laid out on her back.
Steve grabbed a half-smoked cigarette out of the ashtray on the coffee table. He searched his pant pockets for a lighter and lit the cigarette. It hung from his mouth, hands free as he stood over my mother.
"Darrrleen, get your ass up." He kicked her but no response.
Steve kneeled down and with his thumb and index finger took the cigarette out of his mouth. He moved the lit side down towards mother's arm and pressed it into her forearm.
"What the fuck." My mother yelled.
She pulled herself up, holding onto her forearm. I sat on the couch, hugging my knees to my chest and pretending not to look.
"What the fuck was that?" She asked.
"I need some food." Steve said.
"I'm not feeling to well baby, can't we --"
Steve grabbed my mother by her neck and squeezed.
"I said I need some fuckin' food. That's what I need and that's what I'll fuckin' get."
She held his hands at her neck, her veins bulging out of her head and her face bright red. He let go of her and threw her toward the floor. She immediately vomited onto the carpet.
"You disgusting pig." Steve said.
She held herself up with her hands, facing the floor and her hair stuck to her cheek, wet with vomit.
Steve grabbed the back of her hair, holding her hair in his fist. He pushed her face down into the puddle of throw up, "Go ahead slurp it up."
"Ivy, can we talk?" It was Miles.
I looked into the pond and saw the coy again, swirling around each other.
"What do you want Miles?"
"I care about you Ivy. I'm sorry if I upset you. Please, we need to stick together."
"I care about you too. I just don't want to ever go back to the outside. I can't. You don't understand"
"I do understand. A lot of us here had it hard on the outside but..." Miles looked down at his hands.
"What?" I asked.
"There's stuff that happens here too. Ivy, I want to show you something tonight when everyone is asleep. Will you come with me tonight?"
"Where?" I said.
"I have to show you what's in the Red Room."
I turned and looked at Miles.
Ivy and Sylvie sat on the floor in front of The Darius.
"I answered the door and told the Detective I had never heard of a Samantha Watson. He gave me this card."
She handed it to The Darius. He calmly took it and read it, the slightest smile across his lips.
"When he asked your name, what did you say?"
"I told him Claire."
"Sylvie, you did the right thing, so smart. Did he seem convinced?"
"Oh yes, he has no idea about anything."
"Perfect. We wouldn't want anything to get in the way of our Journey to Freedom. The people on the outside do not understand. They just care about the insignificant, the irrelevant. Ivy, you may be fourteen, but you are a wise soul, a soul that needs to be part of The Light."
"Thank you The Darius." I smiled at my protector.
"I will keep this. You did the right thing Sylvie but when Detective Salvino comes back, we will need a better plan. Ivy, get me Miles. We will work out a strategy with him."
I broke eye contact with The Darius and stared down at the floor. "Okay, I will."
"Great. We cannot waste any time. Ivy, do not let this stop your work. We have to continue to get everyone to The Free. I want Freedom House ready in two weeks."
"That's perfect." I said.
Sylvie leaned over and kissed The Darius on his lips. She stood up. I leaned over and kissed him. When my lips moved off of his, I stayed close to his face and said, "I will not disappoint you."
He raised his eyebrow and smiled.
"Detective Salvino, she's never gone undercover. I think it's premature. We can't have another Boulder Creek scene," said Captain Malone.
"Captain, I do understand your concern. These communes feed off men and women but their sweet spot are women. Boulder Creek was unfortunate but we both know they were more than a commune. Their leader lived off of weak souls. By the time we got there, it was too late. We can't be too late with this one. Detective Arc is our only female detective. She's more than competent and I know she has what it takes. We only need a week or two but we need to get her there now."
"Salvino, you do whatever it takes to find those missing girls, but you better find them alive. It's you that will have to live with it."
"Thank you Captain."
Detective Salvino called another strategy meeting. He stood in front of a large whiteboard. Next to the whiteboard was a large cork board. Hanging on the cork board were eight pictures, all young girls smiling for their school pictures.
"Let's talk Boulder Creek. We will need to rehash the facts and this time we can't make the same mistakes."
Detective Salvino pointed to the whiteboard where he had written some bullet points in black pen. "It started out the same. We were dealing with young under aged girls who were disappearing every month. When we found the Boulder Creek commune, we spoke to two women. They said there were no under aged girls and boys there and that they believed in a more unified, shared kind of living. They were not suspicious in any way. All our leads kept pointing us to that cabin out in Boulder Creek but we had nothing on them, until it was too late. I will never forget that call I received on August 5th. There had been a brutal home invasion resulting in bloodshed near the college campus. Five beaten and stabbed to death. The person they went easy on was stabbed 36 times. By the time we got back to Boulder Creek, the entire commune had ingested rat poison. When we arrived, all you could see were bodies laid out everywhere, not one sound. We found nine under aged missing girls and six boys."
Detective Bailey spoke, "So how do we get Detective Arc inside?"
"That is exactly why we're here. We need some ideas and we need them fast."
Detective Arc thought about Charlotte. She saw the purple bike on the curb of the "U-ie," the front wheel spinning solo, the sun setting behind it.
"Detective Arc? You okay?"
"Yes sir." Sophia said.
"Any thoughts on how we get you in there?"
"You said Samantha Watson was last seen at the market on Broadway and 7th. That means some of these commune members are coming into town for water, maybe food. Let's assign someone to go out there to track the house and follow whoever leaves. I can show up at whatever location they end up at and that's where I can work my way in."
"I'll track it." Detective Bailey said.
"That's sounds like a plan. Detective Arc, while Bailey is out there you and I can go over undercover protocol, but we won't have a lot of time. We must work quickly and that means a higher danger risk."
"That's not a problem." said Detective Arc.
"Detective Bailey, get ready please. You will need a bullet proof vest. Use one of our civilian cars. Directions are in my office, on my desk."
Detective Bailey stood up. He looked at Detective Arc, "You got this Detective. Let's bring this one down."
He walked out, head high, and his fists clenched.
"Bailey?" said Detective Salvino.
Detective Bailey turned around with a stern look.
"Don't get caught out there."
Detective Bailey didn't say a word. He nodded his head down once, turned around and walked out.
"Sophia, are you sure you're ready for this?"
"I have been ready for years Detective."
"You need to understand these places always have a leader. You will need to identify that person quickly before they harm anybody."
"How will I communicate with you while I'm there?"
"You'll take a small cell phone and you may need to hide it. Detective Arc, in most undercover cases, it's required for the undercover to be armed unless there is absolute reason that person cannot be. In this case, you will not be armed."
Sophia moved only her eyes up to look at Detective Salvino.
"I can manage that."
"Now, when Bailey calls with their location outside the commune, you'll go to their location, most likely a store, but what's your plan then?"
"I have an idea. Get me a female officer." Detective Arc said.
Sophia's plan was crazy but not as crazy as going undercover into Freedom House. No weapons and little communication. The undercover procedures to be followed made it even more of a challenge to not get caught. If substances were offered, they were to be refused. Audio recording devices were highly recommended. Under no circumstances is the undercover to engage in sexual activity of any kind or to expose any private part. Clear communications were a must and had to be planned out ahead of time. It was Sophia Arc's time to save these young girls, something she couldn’t do for her sister fourteen years ago.
Officer Deanna Morris entered the room, hands on her waist. "Detective Salvino, Detective Arc. The Captain said you needed me."
"Hello Officer Morris, thank you. We have a serious undercover case that Detective Arc will be working on. It's so serious that she won't be armed. That's as much as I can disclose. We have a plan on how to get her into the location." Detective Salvino said.
"What can I do to help?" asked Officer Morris.
"I need you to punch me. Give me a black eye." said Detective Arc.
Officer Morris chuckled, looked at Detective Salvino then at Detective Arc. Her chuckle was interrupted by her own realization, they were serious.
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
"The next update is on case number 59316, fourteen-year old Samantha Watson. Mother last saw her the night of March 4th. She sent her to the store on Broadway and 7th to pick up some eggs and Samantha never returned. We've received some leads that have pointed us to what seems to be a commune out in Felton. It took us about 2 weeks to locate the house. I spoke with a girl named Claire but of course she says she's never seen or heard of Samantha. As you all know, every month, about four girls in the Santa Cruz County region go missing. Some underage and most from broken homes but not all. Any questions?" Detective Salvino scanned the room.
"Yes, Detective Trenton?"
"How sure are you that these girls might be living at this commune? Is the commune dangerous? I mean, let's face it, we might just be dealing with runaways."
"Those are some good points however when we have under-aged girls missing, it doesn't matter if they chose to leave their families. It's our job to find them. It's also our job to locate the adults in charge of allowing these girls to stay with them as runaways. Yes, Detective Bailey?"
"Have these different leads led you to this same commune? If that's the case, then it seems likely that most of these girls could be there but why? What is pulling them to that house?"
"That's exactly what we're here to find out. I will continue to lead this case but those of you who are assigned to some of our other missing girls, you may be brought in to investigate this house further. To answer your question on what may be attracting them to this location, we don't know but if it's in fact true, it's concerning. Any other questions?"
A female detective raised her hand. She had dark brown hair pulled back into a tight bun. Her eyebrows scrunched downward, pointing towards the top of her nose, deep with concentration. She wore little makeup and had small lips. Her thin face accentuated her sharp features. She was young but was already forming small wrinkles in between her eyebrows.
"Yes, Detective Arc?"
"Detective Salvino, forgive me but don't you think we need to move a little faster on this? I was assigned to Faye Miller's case four years ago. She was fifteen when she went missing and now she's nineteen. The case went cold but if we're onto something here then we need to move fast."
"I agree Detective Arc. We are working strategically and as fast as we can. As you all know, we need to come up with a careful plan, one that won't jeopardize anyone's life. If there aren't any more questions, let's begin brainstorming."
Officer Trenton shouted out, "Let's raid the house. That always works." He laughed, his mouth wide and open.
"We have to proceed with official protocol, or it will bite us in the ass later in a court situation. Any other winners?"
"We can continue to chase those leads. They probably have more information than they're telling you." Officer Bailey suggested.
"We're definitely going to continue to investigate current leads and track down any others."
Detective Bernal spoke, "Why don't we send an undercover. Eight years ago, we sent someone undercover to work on the commune case up in Boulder Creek. Blew it wide open. We all know how it ended but at least it ended."
"That might not be a bad idea. But we don't want another Boulder Creek situation. We need to be preventive. If we did go that route, who could we send to this Felton house in the redwoods?"
Detective Arc stood up. "I can do it."
Sophia Elizabeth Arc was the youngest detective in Santa Cruz County. She made it at twenty-eight years old. Sophia was fourteen when her younger sister, Charlotte age eight, went missing and that's when she took her vow. They were playing in the cul-de-sac, what they referred to as the "U-ie." The "U-ie" was about five houses away from the Arcs and was the usual hang out spot for the neighborhood kids. One summer day, Sophia and Charlotte had been riding their bikes for hours, checking in occasionally at home and using the opportunity to grab a snack or pick at the food their mom was cooking.
The sun was starting to set, and this was always their signal to start back home. As they began to ride down, passing the McKinsey's, the enchanting music of an ice cream truck was heard, every kid's hope and dream before calling it a day. The neighborhood ice cream man was Mr. Keats. If Sophia or Charlotte were short a dime, he'd say, "I'll just add it to your tab," and hand them their ice cream.
Charlotte looked back at her sister while riding, "Sophia, I want one."
Sophia rode up next to her sister, they both put the brakes on and stood, holding the handlebars of their bikes.
"How much do you have?" Sophia asked.
Charlotte reached into the pocket of her jean shorts and pulled out some change, a red jolly rancher, and a small piece of paper crumpled up.
Sophia searched her pockets and handed her sister fifty cents. "I'll wait here. Hurry up, mom will have a fit if it gets dark."
The ice cream man was now at the "U-ie" and parked right at the curve. One boy bought an ice cream but was already running back home. There were no other kids outside, the entire neighborhood followed the home by sunset rule. Sophia watched as her sister rode back, about 3 houses away, and disappeared behind the truck, only pictures of ninja turtle pops, WWF vanilla bars, and popsicles could be seen.
As Sophia stared, she noticed something different about Mr. Keats' truck. He had a large sticker on the driver side of the truck that read, Keep Santa Cruz Crazy. It wasn't there. It was taking Charlotte longer than usual to get her Lemon Lime Ice Tickle. The truck began to move fully around the "U-ie" and picked up speed down the street. Sophia's eyes followed the truck as it approached, about to pass her. She looked into the truck and locked eyes for a second with the driver and it wasn't Mr. Keats. She just saw dark, soulless eyes. The truck was gone.
She looked down at the cul-de-sac. Lying on its side was Charlotte's purple bike and no Charlotte. Sophia raced over to it. She hopped off her bike and dropped it onto the curb. A foot away from Charlotte's bike were the coins Charlotte was holding. All Sophia could think was, what had I done? Why did I wait behind? Why didn't I just go with my sister?
When Sophia went back home and led her parents to the "U-ie," her mother shrieked, falling to her knees and throwing herself over Charlotte's purple bike. The police taped off the neighborhood and the McKinsey's came out, standing on their lawn, Mrs. McKinsey held her hand over her mouth. The Jacksons also came out. So did the Hensens and the Smiths. Sophia sat on the curb in front of her house with bloodshot eyes and in a daze amongst the flashing police lights, the red and blue tinting the street, parked cars, and light poles. She told the police what happened. She wouldn't speak another word for a month.
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
I was awakened by sun rays bursting through the sunroof window. I turned my head over to my right, Miles was still asleep, his muscular chest rising and falling slowly from each breath. It was the first time he had looked content. I turned my head back to look up. I stared at the blue morning sky and the white cotton clouds. Sylvie was right. The Love stage had changed my life. I lifted myself up with my arms, my body was sore, and moved the white canopy curtains away from my face. I stood up and walked to the bathroom, small steps and stiff knees. I sat on the toilet, dropping my bottom down first in slow motion. I wiped and there was still a little blood but nothing unbearable.
I still didn't understand what Miles was so worried about. Last night was just another form of love, compassion, and pain practice. Everything we needed to get us ready for The Light. This was why Freedom House was so special and so beyond everything on the outside. We understood the way to enlightenment, and we were going to change the world and change the mindset of everyone out there. I couldn't wait to join The Darius in The Love room. I couldn't wait to help others experience the same thing I had last night.
My daydreaming was interrupted. I heard a loud pounding sound but it wasn't coming from The Love room's door. It was faint, a little farther away. A muffled voice. I walked to the bedroom door, slow and steady as to not make a sound. My hand reached for the doorknob and I concentrated while I turned the knob and then moved the door open just a crack. I listened. Someone was knocking aggressively on the front door.
"This is the police. Anyone home?"
The police? Why were they here? What did they want? I had a lot of experience with police officers on the outside. Each month, the neighbors would call the cops on my mom and whatever boyfriend she chose to bring home to teach her a lesson. I remember one particular Friday night. I was watching TV in the living room. There was no ceiling light just an old dirty lamp that flickered in the corner of the room. We had one couch with a faded orange and white floral print, and it reeked of cigarettes. There was a small coffee table but no room to put down any coffee. The table was always a mess with ashtrays, cigarette butts that missed the ashtray, beer cans, and old food. The carpet was stained, and the hairs were worn all the way down. Hardly a carpet. I sat on the floor watching my show.
There was a small doorway that led into the kitchen but was never used for cooking. In the sink, dishes stacked high. A four-story luxury food condo for bugs. I never witnessed my mother clean the counters. There was grime build up in the crevices of each tile. Sometimes you could catch a glimpse of a cockroach running by. On this Friday night, it started out with a small argument. I could hear their voices getting louder. "I can go now." My mother slurred.
"You're always waiting till the last fuckin' minute. You're lazy." This was boyfriend number three, the mechanic alcoholic named Steve.
"I'm sorry baby, I'll go right now and buy some food." She walked out of the kitchen doorway, I looked over at her. Her eyes caught mine as she held a short glass half empty of vodka. She forced an innocent smile and looked like a child that just got into trouble.
"No you fuckin' won't." Steve grabbed her hair as she walked out of the kitchen and pulled her with all the strength he had. Her body flew back onto the kitchen floor like a rag doll. The glass shattered. "Steve, please, please not again."
"I told you so many times already." He yelled.
The neighbors pounded on the wall. I began to stand up slowly, my knees were weak and my heart pounded out of my chest. "You sit down." He yelled at me. I sat back down on the floor, not sure what would happen next. My normal Friday night thoughts began to pay a visit. Was he going to kill her? Was I going to get hurt? Would the police finally save me?
"Leave her alone Steve." my mother said with no conviction.
"Shut up." Steve stood over her and she lay there, her tang top strap hanging down her arm. He punched her into the floor. There was a loud pounding on the front door. I knew who it was.
"Police, open up now."
Steve got one last punch in before stopping. He grabbed a dishtowel that was on the counter and wiped his knuckles. He walked into the living room and threw the towel onto my lap. "Get rid of that."
My mom grabbed onto the edge of the kitchen counter to lift herself up. I walked over to her. "It's not a big deal Samantha."
I was beginning to hate her. I didn't understand what she was doing to us. She turned the water on in the kitchen sink and washed her face. Her left eye was swollen and the skin at her cheekbone was split open. I could hear Steve talking to the police officer through the living room but couldn't see them.
"We received a call about a disturbance."
"Nothing exciting happening hear officer." Steve said.
"Have you been drinking sir?"
"It's not a crime to drink in the privacy of your own home, is it?"
"Can we take a look around?"
My mother looked at me and raised her pointer finger to her lips, signaling me to not make a peep.
"If you don't have a warrant then I can't let you in."
"Then keep it down. I don't want to be called out here again."
"Yes sir, thank you."
Steve closed the door. He walked over to the couch and plopped down onto it. He leaned back and scratched his pot belly.
"Darleen, get me a beer."
"Samantha, just go to your room." My mom whispered to me.
As I walked through the living room toward the hallway on the left, Steve stopped me. "Sam, come here."
I stopped in front of the TV and stared at him. He gestured with his hand to go over to him. I walked over and stood next to him as he sat on the couch. He patted his knee. I sat on his lap. He smelled of cigarettes and beer. He put his rough hands around my waist. "You know I love you and your mother, right?"
"Yeah, I know."
"Then give me some love." He pointed to his cheek.
I leaned over and kissed it, rough with stubs of hair. I got up and walked to the hallway. When I turned the hallway corner, I stopped and leaned my body against the wall. I placed my palms against it, my fingers gripping for anything. A tear ran down my left cheek.
"I'm sorry Darleen. I just want you to be the best you. You know I love you."
I could hear their lips smacking together and I could feel the vomit rise up, burning the back of my throat but I forced myself to swallow it back down. I went into my bedroom and closed the door. I lied down on my mattress on the floor, staring at the dark, stained ceiling, wondering if I would ever get out.
"Ivy?" Miles was awake.
I placed my index finger to my lips, signaling him to stay quiet.
"Police, is anyone home?"
Someone was making their way to the front door. I heard the door open.
"Good morning Sir, how can I help you?" They had sent Sylvie, her voice friendly and welcoming.
"Good morning to you as well Miss. I'm Detective Salvino. You may be able to help me. A young girl, fourteen years of age, went missing about 5 months ago and we've been looking for her. Her name is Samantha Watson. She was last seen downtown on Broadway and 7th Street, about 15 miles from here. Here's a picture of her, have you seen her?"
"What a lovely name, Salvino. Well that is just devastating. I can't image how her parents are feeling. I've never seen her before. I wish I could be of more help Detective." Sylvie spoke slowly with a hint of flirtation.
"Thank you much Miss. If you happen to hear anything at all, please give me a call. Here's my card."
"Of course. I really hope you find her. There are so many bad people out there."
"What was your name again?"
"Oh, how rude of me. My name is Claire."
"You have a nice day Claire. Please reach out if you hear anything."
"Have a wonderful day as well Detective Salvino."
Claire? How did they find Freedom House and why did my mother even care if I was gone? My breath stopped for a moment. I didn't want them to find me here and take me back to the outside. Miles was standing next to me.
"Ivy, this is your way out, your ticket home."
"This is my home. I'm not leaving Miles so you can stop trying to convince me."
"What if that Detective comes back?"
"I will talk to The Darius. He'll know what to do."
Miles grabbed his clothes quickly, putting them on without saying a word. He opened the door, walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. He could be angry, I didn't care. I was more worried about this Detective. I walked over to my clothes and heard a knock on the door.
"Miles leave me alone please."
"Oh, come in."
Sylvie opened the door and carefully shut it behind her. She came over to me and handed me a small card. "Someone's looking for you."
I looked down and it read:
Santa Cruz Police Department.
155 Center St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
"I heard. We have to go to The Darius right now." I said.
"That is the perfect plan. He has all the answers." Sylvie smiled.
"Let's get you dressed."
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
The next morning, I did my best to avoid Miles. Tonight was my introduction to The Love room but my excitement turned to dread after what had happened the night before. How could he bring me here only to tell me to get out? I knew obsessing about it would just distract me and would hold me back from The Light.
During breakfast I sat with some new people, the same group that was always in The Darius' room sitting in an entranced meditation. They ate on the stone path that led to The Darius' room, just far enough from the others to be secluded but close enough to observe them all.
"Ivy, congratulations on becoming Freedom House's secretary. That is such an important role here. Are you excited about tonight?" Jonas gave me a bright-eyed stare as he said this.
As Jonas was speaking, my eyes moved across each member in the group in the hopes of catching a look of suspicion in someone's eyes, my attempt to discover the person who was watching me and Miles the night before. How much did they hear?
"Ivy?" Jonas asked.
I snapped out of thought. "Thank you, I am very excited. I've been waiting for this."
No one in the group seemed to know what happened last night or if the person was present, they were putting on a flawless facade.
"When do you start your work with The Darius?" Sylvie, one of the more attractive girls there, said. Sylvie had long dark voluminous hair that had a natural wave that framed her face. Her skin was olive and she had the perfect figure. Whenever she spoke, she always made strong eye contact with her seductive brown eyes.
"After breakfast I have a meeting with him."
"He is so amazing. Just pure beauty." Sylvie said.
"I've never met anyone like him before. Where is he from anyways?" I asked.
"What matters is that he's here now. What matters is the Journey to Freedom. He is the only one who can lead us there." Cyrus spoke sternly.
"Of course, Cyrus. That is why we are all here." Sylvie interjected.
"Not all." Cyrus said. He stood up and walked away.
"Don't mind him, he wants to work closer with The Darius and he's been trying really hard." Jonas shrugged it off.
"You're really going to enjoy The Love room, it's life changing." Sylvie smiled.
After breakfast, I saw Miles feeding the animals. I walked briskly past him in the hopes that he wouldn't notice me. "Ivy," he followed me. I continued to walk down the stone path to The Darius' room.
"I am meeting with The Darius. I can't talk."
"Okay, we can talk tonight. I'm still your mentor and I'll be introducing you to The Love room."
I walked through the doorway of The Darius' room and left Miles behind me, knowing he wouldn't follow me since he had to feed the animals. I stopped when I entered, a long white carpet led to where The Darius was sitting.
"Beautiful Ivy, come forward." The Darius articulated every letter, every syllable.
The same people always sitting in the room were there, this included Jonas, Sylvie, and Cyrus. They didn't make eye contact with me. They just sat and looked at The Darius, with the faintest of smiles, almost nonexistent. The room was dark as always with candles lit along the walls.
I walked down the carpet and sat down in front of The Darius, crossing my legs like him. "Ivy, we need to begin faster preparations to move everyone into The Free stage. I know you are just entering The Love room tonight, but you need to understand that we must move quickly to The Light. I had a vision and the darkness is coming. If we do not enter The Light soon, we will all be consumed by this darkness. I will announce this in evening meditation."
"What do you need me to do?" I asked.
"You will need to revise all schedules and add an additional pain meditation and an additional pain yoga to each day. We need a total of four pain practices each day. I need you to remove dinner from the schedule. From now on, everyone will begin fasting from 2:00pm until the following morning."
"Okay The Darius." It was fascinating. He knew exactly what we needed.
"There is one more thing. Everyone needs to be placed into The Love phase. I need you to create the schedule for The Love room and make sure all members are introduced to it within the next two days."
"I can do that."
"I know you can. You are very special." The Darius looked into my eyes; his stare moved down into my body. He leaned in and placed his hands on my waist, "We cannot let the darkness consume us Ivy." His touch sent chills up my back.
I walked down the white carpet to exit. This was serious. I had to get to work. When would this darkness come? What was going to happen to us if we didn't move fast enough to The Light? I walked into the kitchen and Penelope was chopping squash.
"Hello Ivy. Are you feeling better today?" She continued to chop as I spoke. Jody crosses my mind.
"So much better. Thanks."
"That makes me happy to hear."
I looked down at her chopping the squash. She chopped with her right hand and held the squash securely with her left. Her left fingernails caught my attention. They were stained red with dark red grime under her nails. She was leaving pink fingerprints on the squash. My stomach turned. The chopping sound stopped.
"Something wrong Ivy?" Behind her smirk was a joke she was only aware of.
"Um, no, I just wanted to inform you that we'll be taking dinner off the schedule. The Darius' order."
"Isn't it great. He knows exactly what we need." She continued chopping. As I began to walk away, Penelope started to hum a song. It made me stop but I forced myself not to turn and look back at her. Why was that song so familiar? I know. It was the same chanting sound I heard the night before behind the red door. I took a breath and continued to walk away. I had a lot of work to begin.
It was finally time. I had to meet up with Miles and begin my introduction to The Love room. I was not looking forward to seeing him. We met in Freedom Park at the coy pond. He was sitting on a bench staring into the pond. I walked right up and sat next to him, not saying anything.
"This has always been my favorite place at Freedom House. The coy have been here since the beginning as well."
"Miles, about last night, I still don't understand."
"One died today."
"What?" I was confused.
"I found a coy fish dead. I took it out with a net. It's finally free from this confined pond."
I acted like I didn't hear him. "Miles, I'm sorry I said you were jealous. I just don't get this."
"Are you ready for The Love room? It'll make sense there."
Miles opened the door to The Love room. The ceiling was heightened to the heavens, so high up with a sunroof window at the very top. Brightly lit stars shimmered, the universe watching us through the sun window. Transparent, sheer cloth were hanging down the mattress frame in a repeating pattern, inviting and protective. I couldn't help but run fingers along it, smooth and light as air. Long skinny carpets were laid out all around the room and leading to the bed. There was nothing on the walls. In the far, left corner, there was a beautifully carved wooden wardrobe with two doors. To the right, was a doorway that led into a room with marble floor and one large white porcelain bathtub. A strong scent of flowers hit my nose.
Miles closed the door behind him and locked it. We were the only ones in the room. "Let's sit Ivy."
We sat on the mattress. I put my hands in my lap, knees tightly press together and my feet on one of the soft rugs. "Ivy, I'm sorry about last night but I'm only trying to protect you. There's a lot that goes on here that you couldn't even imagine."
"Like what? Everything here is perfect. I didn't have a life before Freedom House. What could be so wrong?" I asked.
"Your introduction to The Love stage and this room is to prepare you for The Darius'."
"And what's so wrong with that? The Darius is beyond special. He is Life."
"You don't understand Ivy. When a person enters The Love, they are groomed to be intimate with The Darius. He is very particular in what he wants so he has all the mentors prepare new members. Then he takes over The Love room with them."
"The Darius knows I'm beautiful so what's wrong with that? He is beauty and so everyone else here. Like he says in meditation, we are one and together we must move toward The Free to get to The Light. This is just all part of it." I was flattered. No one had told me I was beautiful before The Darius and now he wanted to get me ready for a special night with him.
"Ivy, I won't do it. You're fourteen. Don't you see? This isn't okay. Think about on the outside, it's wrong."
"This isn't the outside Miles. We are doing something bigger here. It's not like I'm being forced, I want it."
"I'm not going to prep you. You are a wonderful girl, but you don't deserve what's coming."
"The Darius deserves it Miles and I have been waiting my entire life to be important. You can't take this away from me. I guess I'll need to tell The Darius to assign me a new mentor."
"You know if you do that, I will face the consequences." Miles voice cracked from concern.
"Then prep me."
"Ivy, I really like you, but this isn't right."
"It's my job to help Freedom House move closer to The Free stage and this is part of it. If you don't prep me, I will go to The Darius and have someone else do it."
Miles' eyes swelled with tears. His lips were tightly sealed as he forced his tears to stay put but one broke free, a small droplet fell over his bottom waterline and gracefully danced down his cheek, starting slow and picking up speed as it dripped down his cheek. He slowly lifted his hand to his face and wiped it.
"I can't let someone else do it. Just know Ivy, I am forever sorry."
How couldn't he understand how important this all was? Everyone else seemed to get it. He led me over to the wardrobe. He grabbed both wooden knobs and opened it widely. On the top two shelves there were bottles of different sizes and colors filled with liquids. My eyes ran across in awe and I caught some words. Lube. I had never heard that word before.
On the bottom shelves there were objects I had never seen before, but they looked interesting. Some were bright pink, some just plain black. Some had round circular shapes attached, and others were long and cylindrical. I grabbed one, "I like this one."
Miles grabbed one of the bottles that contained lube. We went back to the mattress and he helped me get undressed. He got undressed. He looked me in the eyes, reached his hands gently to my face and said, "I am so sorry Ivy."
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved.
When I found Miles, he was in Freedom Park, scrubbing the stoned pathway leading to The Darius’ room. He was down on his knees, a red towel underneath them. I walked up, standing next to him, “Do you need some help?”
“Only if you promise to sit with me during dinner later,” he shot me a side glance with a charming smile.
“I pinky promise.”
He handed me a round yellow sponge. I dipped it into the bucket next to us and picked a stone to massage in circular motions. Miles was moving his sponge up and down on a stone next to mine, creating foamy bubbles around our hands.
I lowered my voice and asked, “Miles, what happened to Jody?”
Miles' hand stopped moving, he stared at the stone he was cleaning and didn’t look at me.
“She’s just assigned to the Red Room now.”
“But when I asked Penelope, she acted like Jody never existed here.”
“Ivy, when people are assigned to the Red Room, it’s pretty important so The Darius doesn’t want it discussed. We are taught to forget about it in order to remove distractions. You understand?”
“So, Jody’s okay?”
Miles locked eyes with mine. “Of course she’s okay. We shouldn’t talk about this here.”
“Okay. Sooo, how do you think I’m progressing with The Entrance…mentor.” I threw him a smile.
“I have to admit I am pretty impressed especially since you’re such a youngin’. You have really dived fully in and The Darius notices people that have such dedication. You’ve been here about two months now. You’ll soon be finishing The Entrance and moving into The Love phase.”
“I can’t wait. I want to be here forever. I have never had a family like the one here at Freedom House.” I reached my soapy hand onto Miles’ and he looked up at me with such gentle eyes.
“Let’s finish these stones and get to feeding the animals.”
Later that day, after dinner, Miles told me he had something very important to discuss, “The Darius would like to see you. I’ll come with you since I am your mentor.”
“Should I be worried?” I asked, thinking I had done something wrong.
“Never.” Miles said but he wasn't very convincing.
I was relieved but still nervous. The Darius was so important, why would he want to see me?
I walked down the stone path, staring at The Darius’ doorway entrance. I wore the clothes that Miles gave me months back for Entrance members, brown loose pants and a brown shirt. I walked through the doorway, into the dimly lit room, tealight candles were around the perimeter. There were about six members on each side of the room, sitting on the floor and staring at The Darius with concentration.
The Darius sat crossed legged, his long golden hair looked like silk. His eyes never left mine and he kept both palms pressed together right under his chin. “Sit with me Ivy.”
He gestured right in front of him. Although I was nervous, his posture and eyes were comforting. I wanted to sit in front of him forever.
“Ivy, I have been noticing you. You are one of the youngest here at Freedom House yet your wisdom and beauty far exceed your youth. I need you to work more closely with me. Everyone here at Freedom House has a purpose. Some are here to help with the daily chores and others are meant to work directly with me, like Miles and Sky. I would like you to be my secretary. You will make sure Freedom House is on track, schedules are on time, and that everyone is moving towards The Free stage all at once. We will need everyone to be at the same stage very soon. We must prepare for The Free and I need your help with that. Are you ready to move to The Love stage?”
“I am more than ready The Darius.” My words slipped out of my mouth without any thought.
“That is great to hear. Miles, bring Ivy her new clothing.”
Miles walked over, holding the neatly folded clothes out on his forearms. There was a bikini top similar to Sky’s and blue loose pants. The Darius smiled, “Ivy, put these on.”
“Thank you, I will put these on right away.”
“Put them on here, right now.”
I stood up slowly and looked around at the members sitting on each side of the room. Their expressions hadn’t changed since when I entered. I looked down at the clothes I was wearing.
Miles grabbed my hands, “I will help you.”
He took my shirt off. I pulled my pants down, trying to hide my tiny breasts. The Darius stood up. He got close to me and said, “Ivy, you never have to be ashamed here. You are beauty. Everyone here is beauty. He put his hands out. I placed my hands into his. He lifted my hands, our palms together and moved them high up above our heads. My arms were fully stretched above my head and I stood there naked for all to see.
“Welcome to The Love stage.”
The Darius received the clothing from Miles and put the bikini top on me, tying the back. I felt so beautiful. He handed me the blue pants and I put them on. “Since Miles has been your mentor, he will introduce you to The Love room tomorrow.”
I was so ecstatic. I was given a special job as The Darius’ secretary and was in the second phase. My dreams were coming true. I found a family and was finally important. That night, I could barely sleep. I was lying on the floor in the living space, Miles was asleep to my left and a girl named Cat was to my right. Our arms and legs touched, with little space to move. All the members of Freedom House slept here. The room was dark, not a single sound except occasional snores. I was thinking about how The Darius picked me and I couldn’t wait to move to the next stage. I wonder what The Love room would be like. Then, in the stillness of the room, I heard something. The sound was rhythmic, but I couldn’t make out what it was. Was it an animal outside? I lied on my back, looking up at the ceiling and tried to make out what it was. I carefully pushed myself up with my hands to avoid waking anyone. I looked down at all the sleeping bodies and moved my feet and legs as slow as I could, stepping around people to not wake them.
I listened for the sound and made my way to the kitchen. The sound got farther away. I turned around and walked to the hallway. I stood at the beginning of the dark hall and looked down towards the red door. I could barely see but I heard the sound louder now. Was it music? I moved one foot in front of the next, placing my toes down first and then gradually placing my heel down. The yoga room door was closed. As I walked past the bathroom, which didn’t have a door, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, a dark blurred figure creeping through the night. As I got closer to the red door, I heard it again. Down into the unknown depths through the red door, girls were softly chanting but I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying. Why would they be singing in the middle of the night? I couldn't help myself and reached for the doorknob just on the chance that it might be unlocked. As my fingers gripped the knob I inhaled deeply and was beginning to turn it when someone behind me whispered,
"Ivy, what are you doing?" It was Miles.
A jolt of energy jumped up into my body pushing my shoulders into a spasm. I had to force myself not to scream from the surprise.
"Do you hear that?" I said.
"Ivy, you know you are supposed to be in the living space sleeping."
"Miles, what really happened to Jody? What's in there?" I asked.
"Look, Ivy, I don't want you to get…in trouble or anything. We need to go back to the living space."
"Miles, I saw Penelope slaughtering a pig. Why did she do that?"
"There's a lot that goes on here that people don't know about. Things that you will find out along the way. Ivy, I really care about you."
Then Miles leaned in close to my ear, the heat of his breath shot down my neck. "You should get out before it's too late."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. What was Miles trying to hide from me and why would he want me to leave.
"How could you say that? This is my home. You brought me here. I don't understand."
"Ivy, please don't take it wrong. I am trying to protect you."
"You're just jealous that The Darius chose me to be his secretary."
"It's not like that."
"Just leave me alone. I don't want to talk about this anymore."
"I'm sorry if I upset you. Please come back to bed soon."
Miles turned around and walked back to the living space as I stood in shock. I couldn't believe my own mentor would try to kick me out.
Then I caught someone's single eyeball peering through the crack of the door to The Love room. The door slowly shut, and the eye disappeared behind it. Someone was watching us. But who?
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
The first time I experienced pain meditation, I thought I was leaving this world forever. Naturally, I struggled to break free, back to comfort but Miles helped me through the suffocating shock by holding me down, overpowering me with his strength. His grip sent a puncturing pain into my neck, my face heated up from loss of circulation, and my eyes gradually bulged out of their sockets. Once I moved past trying to fight it, I surrendered myself fully to The Darius and to The Light. My vision got foggy. Bright blurry spots sporadically appeared and disappeared. I couldn’t feel my body’s existence and The Darius’ voice became muffled and distorted. Memories began to rush through my mind of my old life on the outside. Then, the moment I was about to fall into darkness, Miles released his hands from my throat. I could see clearer than ever now. I was saved.
Pain meditation was an essential part of the Journey to Freedom and we practiced it in many ways. The Darius explained to us how essential pain is in order to finally reach The Light and without pain we would never get there. He told us that only the most special and intelligent people would be able to do it. We practiced it during yoga each day. When I first heard about Pain Yoga my heart sank into my stomach. What kind of pain? Was I going to get hurt? Was I going to bleed? The pounding of my heart seemed to jump into my throat, making it impossible to swallow. Miles assured me it was nothing I couldn’t handle and that it was part of The Entrance stage just like the pain meditation. After a couple of months at Freedom House, the Pain Yoga never seemed to get easier, but I knew I was always closer to The Light. I reminded myself how much I wanted to serve our community and The Darius, how much I wanted to be there when we all made it to The Light and how they all saved me from the outside.
There was one Pain Yoga session that is forever ingrained in my memory. I had just finished my morning chores and had an afternoon yoga session to get to. I walked to the doorway of the yoga room and stared in. About twenty members were inside, standing straight with perfect posture on their blue mats and facing the large mirror in the front of the room. Each person wore the same expression on their face. Their eyes, absent from blinking, were in a calmed trance, eyebrows fully relaxed, with a closed mouth smile. Freedom House’s yoga instructor, Sky, stood at the front and gave the same hypnotized stare back at her students. She kept her body stiff and straight but then, slowly turned only her head to my direction. “Ivy, we’ve been waiting for you. Close the door behind you.” I stepped from the doorway into the yoga room and felt the extreme change in temperature inside the room. I immediately began to sweat, my palms getting clammy. I could barely take a breath in there. I looked at everyone standing on their yoga mats, and still they faced forward, like statues frozen in eternity. I shut the door behind me.
The room was heated to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. I couldn’t think or breathe. There were rules during yoga. No one was allowed to leave the room during the 30-minute session. No one was allowed to bring water into the room. If we needed to take a break, we could go into child pose position. Sky explained that this was all to help us and build our strength as a community, so we’d be ready for The Light. There was one large window absent of curtains that spanned the length of the wall opposite the door, peering out into the depths of the redwoods’ deepest secrets. Sky held a small black device, home to a single button. When she pressed it, a thin black window screen slowly crept down from the top rim of the window to the bottom of the floor, immersing us all in total darkness.
“We will begin in cow’s pose. Slowly curl your head back to feel a deep stretch in your back. Now slowly transition into cat pose, arch your back, shoulders up and neck down.” I could barely breathe and the combination of the heat and pitch, black darkness sent a panic through me. I couldn’t see anyone else so I couldn’t tell if anyone else felt the same. I was starting to get dizzy and just kept moving my body to try and keep up. Suddenly, a sliver of light and cool breeze broke into the room uninvited. Someone had broken the rule of leaving and opened the door hastily to escape. Who was it?
Sky interceded, “Please continue. Let’s not let this cloud our bodies and minds. You are all so special and are closer to The Light.”
After Pain Yoga, we were all required to take cold showers, turned all the way to the coldest setting. When the freezing water hit my back in sent shock waves through my skin and was almost unbearable, but I knew it would make me stronger. When we were all done showering, after everyone exited the bathroom, I stayed behind. I looked into the mirror and stared at myself. I felt so accomplished after getting through that. A smile slowly broke through and I began to think about The Darius and how he was like no one I had ever met. I couldn’t explain it. My thoughts were interrupted when I heard a whisper outside the bathroom, down the hall. I hid near the doorway to listen.
“Please, please let me try again. I don’t want to go in there.”
It was the voice of a middle-aged woman named Jody. She had been at Freedom House for some time and was in the pain yoga session right before showers. It entered my mind in that moment, she did not shower with all of us. I moved my body just a couple of inches past the doorway to peer out down the hall. The Darius and Sky were standing with her at the very end of the hall, in front of the large red door. The Darius pulled out a key, unlocked the door, and they escorted her in, the door shutting very quietly behind them. Maybe she was going to miss out on lunch as a consequence. She knew the rules. It was now lunchtime and I didn’t want to be late.
We sat outside that day, near the coy pond, all fifty of us minus Jody. Penelope made a vegetable stew with carrots, celery, squash, and a delicious vegetable I had never had before. “This is tasty, what’s this vegetable?” I lifted my spoon up for Miles to see.
“That’s Penelope’s special ingredient.”
I was on kitchen clean up duty after lunch. Penelope was putting the left overs away as I washed the dishes. “Penelope, your stew was so good. I have never had anything like that. And your special vegetable was - ”
Penelope swiftly turned interrupting me, “Who told you that?”
“I asked Miles what is was because - ”
“Did he tell you?”
I was confused by her sudden turn to panic and paranoia. “No, he just told me it was your special ingredient.”
Her panic changed abruptly to a soft smile and she stared into my eyes long enough that it made me nervous. I turned around and started washing the dishes again.
“Hey Penelope, what happened to Jody? I didn’t see her at lunchtime.”
Penelope turned around to look at me, “Who?”
I stopped washing dishes. She must have not heard me through the sound of water running and the clanging of glasses. I turned the water off and looked at her. I gave a small chuckle, “Jody. She was in yoga with us earlier today but not at lunch, where is she?”
Penelope tilted her head with that gentle smirk, “There’s never been anyone by that name here. Are you feeling okay?”
My heart dropped. Was she kidding? I didn’t know how to respond. I just wanted to get out of the kitchen. “You’re right. I have a bit of a headache. I’m going to head out to Freedom Park to get some air.”
As I walked outside, I didn’t turn around to look back at Penelope. I didn’t have to. I could feel her stare and that smile watching me as I walked away. I needed to find Miles.
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
It was one of those days where the sunlight hit everything with just the right grace that you knew there was something so much bigger than you. The light reflected off the coy pond, showering the surface with shimmering particles, beckoning my attention. The stone path leading to The Darius’ room had settled in both sunlight and shadows, geometric shapes hovering over each stone. This was the backyard, what we called Freedom Park. Miles and I sat on a wood bench.
“The Darius speaks about the great enlightenment and what he calls The Light. In meditation he leads us through visualizations. We know there are many on the outside that belong here. In these visualizations, we bring them home. Every person that is here today has manifested from these visions including you.” Miles said this with a smile and a light in his eyes but further into the depth of his gaze, a trouble lived. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that anguished stare all too well from my life on the outside.
“So, how are you adjusting to Freedom House?” Miles asked.
“I have never been part of something so important, so meaningful. I really feel like people care about me here. It’s almost too good to be true but I know it is true and it’s the best thing that has happened to me. My life before this was just shit. I hated myself and now I’m learning to love myself and love others. I can’t thank you enough for bringing me here.”
Miles stared down at the ground. His expression drastically changed from a gentle smile to one of concern. He wanted to say something, but an unknowable force stopped him. So, I said something.
“What about you? How long have you been here anyways?”
“Too long that I don’t remember a life without this place. I have chosen not to remember. Things are pretty perfect here, but you know what they say, nothing is ever really perfect.” He forced a smile.
“What do you mean? Don’t you love it here? I can’t imagine a life without Freedom House.”
“Of course I love it here. Who doesn’t? We should really get back. Afternoon meditation will start soon. I’ll meet you inside.”
Miles quickly got up and began to walk back to Freedom House but after a few steps he stopped and looked back at me. “Ivy, you are beautiful no matter where you are. If you ever need anything you can always come to me. Just remember that, always come to me.”
He disappeared into the house. I didn’t understand then the fears that lived inside Miles. I wanted to find out, but I also knew I wanted to stay at Freedom House forever so a part of me didn’t want to know. I stood up and began to follow Miles’ path but was stopped dead in my tracks when I heard a screeching noise that was so piercing, my hands gave shelter to my ears. I looked over and saw Penelope, in her white apron and underwear, slaughtering one of the pigs. Her fingers were in the pig’s snout as she slit its throat. Streams of blood poured down the pig’s pink skin, seeping into each crevice and wrinkle. Penelope’s bare feet were sinking into the mud and blood soaked her toes, staining them red. She caught my stare, stood up straight, blood dripped down her hand as she held the knife to her side. She cocked her head to one side and smiled.
Every day at 1:30 we all gathered in the living space for meditation and The Darius’ teachings. We each lit a tea light candle and placed them around the room. There were about fifty of us and fifty candles lighting our way to freedom. The Darius wore all white silk during meditation. We were all to be seated on the floor, legs crossed, before his arrival. The Darius walked slowly into the living space, stopped at the entrance and intently stared at each of us. He walked to the middle of the room and stood there.
“Thank you for allowing me to be part of your journey and making Freedom House a place of compassion and love. You are each very special in the Journey to Freedom and together we will change the world.”
When The Darius spoke, the hope in our eyes shined so bright and the dreams in our hearts were possible through him. We just wanted to serve him because he believed in us.
“Meditation is essential to purifying our bodies and minds. Through meditation we can transcend anything, love and pain. Keep your focus on me and you will transcend. Take a deep breath, slowly at first. Take in every worry as you inhale. Now, slowly exhale through your mouth, letting your worries leave your body. Think of someone who has hurt you on the outside. Think of what they look like and what they did to you. Now, breathe in slowly. When you exhale, visualize sending that person a light so bright and a love so strong, like a mother gives to her baby.”
I sat staring at The Darius, following his every instruction but I didn’t know the light and love that a mother could give. I did know that The Darius gave me these things and that I could give these to others. I imagined my mother and thought about the time she slapped me across the face full force because I asked to go to a friend’s house. She was so angry that I would ever consider leaving, the way my dad did. I pictured myself reaching my arms up to the sky and pushing light out of my fingertips to surround her. I imagined all the love in the world piercing her heart. I imagined her happy and loving. In that moment, a heavy pain was lifted out of me and for the first time I didn’t feel anger towards her, I felt sympathy.
“Now we will move into our next meditation. Pain is just an illusion, something we are taught to avoid our entire lives. However, pain is unavoidable. We must embrace it and learn to transcend it, or we will not be able to help others and change the world. Let’s begin.”
I turned to Miles and he wrapped his hands around my delicate, tiny neck and slowly began squeezing, his grip gradually getting tighter. My breath disappeared into myself and my body stiffened. The Darius walked around looking down at each of us, nodding his head in approval and wearing a smile.
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
My first month at Freedom House was euphoric and surreal. Everyone worked toward one unified goal. The Darius called it The Journey to Freedom and everyone who arrived at Freedom House started in phase one: The Entrance. There were three phases. The Entrance, The Love, and The Free. Once these three stages of the journey were complete, we would all transcend into communal freedom, which The Darius called The Light and described it as becoming one unit of harmonious enlightenment so strong we could change the world as we knew it, where our leaders and cultures would embrace compassion and love and all worldly problems would be resolved.
I was ready to be part of something bigger; ready to experience compassion and love, two things I never had before arriving at Freedom House. Since Miles brought me in, he was to be my mentor. Miles was very close to The Darius, always going on long walks with him to engage in deep conversation. Miles was responsible for keeping The Darius’ room behind the pond in perfect condition. He had dark black shabby hair and a nervous habit of moving his bangs behind his ear during any conversation. He also wore a short-sleeved white shirt but with red loose pants rather than the beige that The Darius wore. Miles was very tall and his dark eyes kept a secret never told. He was to guide me on my Journey to Freedom.
“The Entrance phase is one of learning. We have wonderful activities and sessions here that will lead us all to the ultimate path, The Light. We take pride in what we do here. You will not find anything like this on the outside.”
This was exactly what I was searching for, a reason to live. Every step I took confirmed to me that I was meant to be there. Miles started by giving me a tour of the entirety of Freedom House. The living space was where meditation sessions took place. This is also where everyone slept. There were no televisions, computers, or phones allowed. The living space had one large bright blue and white rug. There were square orange pillows around the perimeter of each wall. Nothing was hung on any walls, as this would slow down our Journey to Freedom. We were free of distractions and only had ourselves, our minds, and each other.
The living space had an open archway leading into the kitchen. Penelope, the Freedom House chef, was always prepping and cooking meals for each day. She had short pixie blonde hair, earrings from top to bottom along each ear, and bright blue eyes. She was extremely thin and wore an apron with only panties underneath. She greeted everyone with a smile; purely happy to serve them the food she created. There were usually others on chore duty in the kitchen with her. We were only to eat natural food at Freedom House. Everyone was to convert to a diet solely of vegetables with the exception of fresh bread each day. There was no alcohol, drugs, or tobacco allowed on the property. We were to feed our body and minds the purest forms of food and liquid. This would keep our minds clear so we could reach The Light. I remembered then that when I first met Miles he was smoking a cigarette and I wondered why he would smoke if it were forbidden.
Opposite of the kitchen was another archway leading into a hallway. A long white rug ran down the depths of the hallway and stopped at the end where a large red door face. We started with the different rooms. The first door on the left was the carpentry room. “This is where our carpenters create for The Darius.”
The next room to the left was for yoga. Each day, every person was required to do 30 minutes of yoga. The room was bright, with one large window bare of curtains and blue mats were laid out along a smooth wood floor. There was a large full body mirror that spanned the room.
“Meet our yoga instructor, Sky. She has been with us from the beginning.” She had long red curly hair that was pulled back into a thick braid. Her bangs hung right over her eyebrows and she had dim freckles along her smooth soft cheeks that looked like they were tossed gently onto her face. She wore a white bikini top with red flowing pants.
“Welcome.” Sky immediately reached her hand to my face and touched my cheek. “We really believe in the power of breathing and movement. This brings peace to our minds and bodies and allows us to do the work of The Darius. I will see you later today.”
Miles led me to the bathroom. The bathroom had been redesigned for expansion. To the left were two sinks and mirrors. In the far, left corner was the toilet. On the right side was a small entrance into the shower. The shower had multiple showerheads along the wall in a wide, open space. “We shower in groups altogether. We believe in the highest form of freedom absent from judgement. This builds our sense of community as we do everything together and share the experience as one.”
On the other side of the hallway, across from the bathroom, there was only one door. “We use this room for The Love stage of the Journey to Freedom.” When Miles opened this door, my breath escaped me. Inside there was a sun roof window, light rays shone down angelically onto a large mattress overtaken by a fluffy white comforter and adorned with pillows of all sizes. Small throw rugs ran from the walls toward the mattress in the center. “Once you reach The Love stage, we will revisit this room.”
Then we arrived at the end of the hallway. In front of me stood the large wooden red door and carved on the front was that mysterious symbol. “This door is always locked and only The Darius and a few others have access to it.”
“What’s in there?” I asked.
“Once you reach the end of The Free stage, you will find out. Now it’s time to learn about our daily schedule. Let’s head back to the kitchen.”
The Freedom House ran on a structured schedule where everyone was either working for the community or participating in communal activities. Each person was assigned chores each day and activities. First thing in the morning, we all meditated in the living space. Meditation was always led by The Darius. The Darius only came into the main house for meditation and sometimes went into The Love room. Anytime he entered the main house, the aura he brought with him was overpowering. He always walked slowly, observing every little thing around him. Sometimes he touched and smelled the flowers outside before entering or he would approach people and hold out his hands which was his way of welcoming silent eye contact for minutes at a time. It was an honor to be approached by The Darius. He had a way of making us each feel special. Members would crowd around him and just follow him.
After morning meditation, we all showered. I was nervous at first, my fourteen-year-old premature body made me feel insecure. I remember the first time I ever showered at Freedom House. Everyone crowded to the bathroom. Each person helped one another get undressed, smiling and laughing together. Miles helped me and took my shirt off. I had never seen a man naked before. When you are completely exposed in a group, you feel both liberated and vulnerable. Each person had a partner who scrubbed the other clean, cleansing us all of any distractions and of our past.
After showers, we checked the schedule to see where we were assigned for the day. We were all eager to begin each day and contribute to The Freedom House. I couldn’t wait to see where I had been placed that first day. Miles led me to the schedule hanging in the kitchen, the only thing hanging in the entire house. “Ivy, your assigned to the garden. Head out to the front and I will meet you back here for lunch.” Miles held his hands out to me, palms up, and I placed my hands into his. He held them with an intimacy of someone I knew for years.
I made my way out the front door, down the small stoned path, past the gazebo, and to the garden. Standing in front of the garden was a young man wearing a white short sleeved shirt and red pants. He wore a straw hat and was clean shaven. “You must be Ivy. I have been expecting you. You can call me Simon.”
Simon reached out his hand to beckon mine. He held my hand and walked me into the garden. “Here is where we grow the food that purify our bodies and minds.”
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
When I was six years old, my father left me for a better life, one filled with drugs and amenities that my mother and I could never supply him with. I was often left alone in our one-bedroom apartment to keep myself company and to wonder if this is what life was all about; always alone with darkness waiting in the end. I’d look out the window at the cityscape and vast sky to only imagine the freedom out there. I dreamt up an imaginary world, one where I mattered, where I was important, where people loved me, and cared about me.
When I met Miles, my dream was slowly becoming real. As I stepped foot on the grounds of Freedom House, I instantly felt a sense of relief and belonging. There was beauty here that I never knew existed. There was a distinct scent that I will never forget and would forever be synonymous with Freedom House, the scent of fresh bread baking, rising with a soft center and a slightly golden crisp outer shell. My old life was gone forever.
As I walked through the front door there were people everywhere, busy at work, cleaning, cooking, some were leading meditation sessions, and others were painting. They were all working together to sustain the freedom we all wanted. As I looked around, every person’s face was overcome with joy. Miles led me into the kitchen, the smell of basil lingered in the air. I met Freedom House’s chef, Penelope. The depth in her eyes and her smile were contagious, “Welcome, everything in this kitchen is yours and you are free to eat whatever you find here. We bake fresh bread every day.”
I couldn’t believe the generosity given to me within just a few minutes of being at Freedom House. I had felt more love within those few minutes than I ever did in my entire life. Miles walked me through the kitchen and out to the backyard, which they called Freedom Park. To the left, was a small fenced off area with chickens, pigs, goats, and two white peacocks. To the right was a stone path leading to a cement water fountain surrounded by flowers. Past these, a dirt path led to a small pond, and in the depths were the coy, colors of orange, black, and white swimming gracefully in spiral motions. There was a structure behind the pond, a doorway. As we entered, I was overwhelmed with happiness. Then I saw him.
A man sat crossed legged on the floor, tapestries and candles shone behind him, creating a dim and soft halo around his shoulders and head. His long, golden brown hair reminded me of the sunrise. He wore an ocean blue bandana and in the center was that same familiar symbol painted in black. His beard was full and thick but groomed to perfection. His sharp features and thin face brought all focus to his crystal blue eyes, bright yet consumed with depths of darkness. He wore a short sleeved white shirt that hugged his body in a way to show every muscular intricacy. He tucked his shirt into flowing beige pants that almost resembled a skirt. He sat with a very calm and content expression, not at all affected by his surroundings. Men and women sat on the outskirts just gazing at him with admiration and gentle smiles.
Miles approached him and got down on his knees, “The Darius, I have brought to you a soul in need of freedom.”
I walked forward. With a force outside of myself, I came down to my knees. As I looked up to his face, those bright shimmering eyes were intensely staring into mine. He never lost eye contact. He sat in silence staring into my eyes for what seemed like an eternity, exposing every weakness of mine. He lifted his hand slowly to my cheek and softly touched my face. He then said something that I will never forget, “You have so much beauty but not enough freedom to let in shine. What are you called?”
“My name is Samantha.”
“Samantha, this is your home now. Everything here is now yours since everything here is everyone’s. We welcome you. In order to begin a new, free life, your new name will be Ivy.”
The Darius put his hands out, palms up, and I slipped my hands onto his. He gently held them, softly rubbing his thumbs over my fingers, and looked into my eyes. His smile was humble, and his touch was calming. I was fourteen and had finally found a place to call home. I was finally wanted. My life had begun, right there in the depths of Freedom Park and in the heart of Freedom House, among the open redwood sky where the smell of baked bread and the sounds of animals were my new sanctuary and I was now Ivy.
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
Subscribe to my blog and newsletter and be entered to win a $10 Amazon gift card.
My Mantra: Strive to be the best me and improve a little every day. Be compassionate, especially to those who may not practice it. Continue to learn and love. Take a moment multiple times each day to breathe. Forgive myself and forgive others. Read books. Live what I preach. Accept others. And above all, laugh every single day. (P.S. I have an infatuation for horror and disturbing and dark true stories.)